03/25/2005 1:00AM

In Shamardal's shadow may be a better horse

Dubawi (right), working last week at Al Quoz training track, is listed as the 7-2 favorite to win the 2000 Guineas on April 30.

NEW YORK - While most of the talk in Dubai this week has centered on Shamardal and his chances of making it to the Kentucky Derby, it is Dubawi who has been the most impressive of Godolphin's many classic hopefuls at this still early stage.

The son of the great Dubai Millennium and Zomaradah - the winner of the Italian Oaks and the E.P. Taylor - Dubawi has looked so good at Godolphin's Al Quoz training track that he has run himself into favoritism for both the 2000 Guineas on April 30, at 7-2, and for the Epsom Derby on June 4, at 5-1. He is one of 54 living colts and fillies sired by Dubai Millennium, 50 of which are under the control of Sheikh Mohammed. Twenty-eight are currently with Godolphin under the tutelage of Saeed bin Suroor.

While Sheikh Mohammed certainly would like to see Shamardal in the Kentucky Derby on May 7, he has always taken a personal interest in the affairs of the prematurely deceased Dubai Millennium, whom he calls "the best horse I have ever seen." Sheikh Mohammed made it a point to recover almost all of the Dubai Millennium foals that were not under his control when the young stallion died in April 2001. A big victory by any of them would satisfy his heart as well as his mind.

Dubawi is in pole position to deliver the goods. Work watchers at Al Quoz have taken note of his instant acceleration, which propelled him to a three-length triumph in the Curragh's seven-furlong National Stakes, a race won in recent years by subsequent Group 1 winners Desert King, King of Kings, Sinndar, Hawk Wing, and Refuse to Bend.

At the same time, Shamardal was still 16-1 for the Epsom Derby before Saturday's UAE Derby, although he was maintaining slight favoritism for the Kentucky Derby with British bookies. With Shamardal, UAE 1000 Guineas and UAE Oaks winner Satin Kiss, and so many sons and daughters of Dubai Millennium in the yard, Godolphin's principals have high hopes for a 2005 that could surpass even their exalted standards.

Major stakes purses get a boost

The best horses in the world will eventually gravitate toward the money. That is one reason why Churchill Downs doubled the base value of the Kentucky Derby from $1 million to $2 million this year. But it did so at the expense of six other graded stakes, which have been reduced by a total of $350,000.

In the meantime, France-Galop has been resourceful enough to find extra funding to raise the value of the newly shortened French Derby from $1.35 million to $1.9 million. The French have also upped the French Oaks from $600,000 to $1 million without having to cut back at the expense of other races.

In fact, France-Galop has been able to increase the prize money for all of its black-type races this year. In 2004, it raised the value of its Group 3 races from 66,000 euros to 72,000 euros. This season, French Group 3's will be worth 75,000 euros. With the strength of the European currency these days, the Prix Exbury, run March 10 at Saint-Cloud, went for $100,403, making it the first French Group 3 to be worth more than $100,000. That is a 73 percent increase over the value of the 2002 Exbury, which, due in part to a much weaker euro, was worth just $58,000.

Elsewhere, the Victoria Racing Club has raised the value of the Melbourne Cup, sponsored by Emirates Airlines, from $3.5 million to $3.9 million. And the Hong Kong Jockey Club has upped the purse of its Champions Mile from $577,000 to $1.02 million.

Even the jump racing set is getting into the act. England's venerable Grand National Steeplechase has, with the aid of its sponsors at John Smith's, been raised from $1.1 million to $1.3 million. Amberleigh House will defend his title in the Grand National Steeplechase at Aintree on April 9.

The Emirates Racing Association put up $15 million for its six Thoroughbred races on Dubai World Cup night, but that was not the only evening of racing at Nad Al Sheba in which purses topped the million mark this winter season. The nine races run on March 5 were worth $1,355,000. Nad Al Sheba also conducted four other cards this year that exceeded $1 million, all as part of its Dubai Racing Carnival, which has attracted good horses from around the world.

If American-trained horses can sweep the first three places in both the Dubai World Cup and the Dubai Golden Shaheen, their owners will bring $7.2 million back into the United States.